Sunday, April 4, 2010

All the Right Ingredients to Writing Advice

Last time, I talked about people in our lives that are pretty sure they know how to be successful writers, because they spent much of their time reading. Sometimes their advice can be a blessing, sometimes just the opposite. It is the same with the plethora of advice available from other writers. Have you checked out almost every book about the writing process from your local library at one time or another? Are your shelves lined with your own copies of "the-perfect-writing-advice-that-will-get-me-published-once-and-for-all"? Are you a member of multiple online writing communities? Do you hold your breath just a little bit when waiting from the critique from that "certain someone" in your writing group?

Yeah. Me too. And I don't think that gaining knowledge is a bad thing. We just have to be careful.


Don't Let Too Many Cooks Create a Recipe for Disaster

I love great food, I savor the tastes and textures of all kinds of cuisine; but unless I have specific, descriptive guidelines in the form of a recipe, I can't begin to recreate a masterpiece. When writing, I am thankful, when taking on a new project, that successful writers have shared what worked for them. Their books and blogs detail the bowls and pans that hold their settings, they advise just when to turn the heat up to make tension boil just right, and they share how full they feel when their masterpiece is complete. These recipes to the writing life make all that prose you've been eating up for years seem plausible-- it COULD come from you!

It could. But, even with recipes in front of you, you still need practice. We all come to our writing kitchens with our own tools. Sure, it looks great when Rachel Ray cooks pasta in her own brand of pasta pot-- you know, the one that is  oblong so all of the spaghetti can hit the water at the same time--but just because you don't have those tools doesn't mean you can't try the recipe. You just need to improvise. John Grisham (and others) outline their entire novels before they begin writing. Well, that may be a perfect way for John to stir up his pot of stories, but you may get so frustrated with the outline recipe that the only tension boiling over is your own. Just like Rachel's pasta recipe, you may have to adjust accordingly-- easing into the only big round pot you have with your batch of metaphorical spaghetti. You may still want to add a little outline to your novel recipe-- you just choose to add it once your story has started simmering.

You like what you like-- find a way to make all the writing advice your own. Allow yourself the delight from many different cuisines. As you continue your writing, this will help you find what works and doesn't work for your writing.

Take a bite-- what do you think? Is it ----?

"Spit it out!"
If you are pushing through a new writing technique and your body starts to react-- badly-- this may not be right for you. At least not right away. For example, many writers swear by setting a timer and forcing themselves to write until the time is up. If this causes test-like anxiety for you, reconsider. Maybe you want to start with a page goal without a time limit at all. The same pressure that works for the winners of Top Chef may not be for you. Take the slow-cooker route.

Become aware of your reactions and thoughts when following the advice causes discomfort. You were drawn to the advice for a reason, so it may still hold some validity. Does the process really not work for you, or are you unwilling to work through the process?

"Now THAT'S a culinary masterpiece!"
You've tested advice from what all the writing masters in your life-- from the latest Writer's Digest to the continued suggestions from your writer's group, and you think you've hit on the perfect recipe. You were able to pick and choose what is right for your style, and suddenly it all starts to fall into place. The timing is just right-- you write enough of a draft and still have the energy to spice it up a bit with additional description and conflict-- not concerned that you didn't taste enough of it the first time through. Because now you understand that your recipe for great writing includes layers of thought-- a delicious combination of your creativity and the inspiration of your fellow writers.

Enjoy!

What writer's advice has worked for you? Or didn't?

3 comments:

  1. The best writing advice I've ever received is "Writer's Write." The second best writing advice is exactly what your post is about today: Don't listen to all writing advice! I love this post because it's a great reminder to read what the greats are doing (it's fun!), but to use only what works for you.

    Advice that didn't work for me was to write every single day. I write M-F but need a break on the weekend (and holidays) to replenish my brain. Usually the only writing I do on the weekends is in my journal, so that's better than nothing. I really admire those who write for hours every single day, though!

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  2. Laura- I too wish I could be one of those people that "writes every day". I rationalize: "oh, I didn't WRITE today, but I sure thought about it.. ALOT". Not the same. When my schedule is hectic (like it has been the last few months) I allow myself to feel good about the short bursts of inspiration that come out.
    That being said, "Writers Write" is some of the best advice. I know my weakness is researching markets, planning different projects, etc.; thereby reducing the Actual Writing time. Oh well, that's why I started "The Scoop"-- at least someone will benefit from my procrasination inducing market searching habit...

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  3. What works for me is writing what I know. That has come to mean inspirational, memoir, family-related and humor. I like that. :) However, I also am taking on suspense and I like that, too. :)

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